French painter Nadine Alexandre (nom de plume) uses deceptively simple, matter-of-fact language to tell her incredible life story, from orphaned Holocaust survivor to successful artist. She describes war-torn Paris as if she were sitting at her easel painting it on a Sunday afternoon; her account of the disappearances of her father, mother, and older brother during German raids of the Jewish ghetto are heart rendering for their coolness. Through all the hopeless tragedy of genocide and war, Alexandre paints a portrait of a young girl’s unflagging hope and, later, drive and ambition-a girl who manages to soak up an education and develop her talent while being ferried between homes and orphanages.
The adult Alexandre’s life is every bit as glamorous as the child’s was destitute. She describes the libertine life aboard the cruise ships where she worked as art director, the cities and landscapes of Asia, Africa, and Latin America that she painted, and, of course, her romances and affairs with men of various nationalities. Nadine Alexandre’s Self Portrait, illustrated with her charming sketches, is by turn tragic and entertaining.

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